"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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2019 TV Round Up

ESTIMATED READING TIME: 5 minutes 14 seconds

Once again the Emmy Awards are upon us, and once again no one cares. But since this Sunday night is supposed to be a celebration of the best of the best in tv, I thought I would briefly share my thoughts on the 2019 television fare I was able to catch.

I rarely write about television only because there is so much of it and I am so behind in watching everything that comes out. An example of which is that I literally just started watching 30 Rock for the first time a few months ago and that show went off the air in 2013.

The advent of binge watching, thank you Netflix, has changed the tv viewing experience so that audiences no longer simultaneously digest new material, but rather do it on their own time. I prefer this method of tv viewing, but it makes writing on the topic difficult and rather useless.

So, since I rarely if ever review television, I have decided to just throw together a cheat sheet of mini-reviews for the relevant shows I have watched this year. I have no idea if any of these shows are nominated for Emmy Awards because I, like every other normal human being on the planet, do not care about the Emmys, in fact my indifference is so great I refuse to even do a google search to see the list of nominees.

So with my laziness established, let’s begin our review of 2019 television!

GAME OF THRONES - HBO: 4 Stars

I watched Game of Thrones from the beginning and as a testament to my limited intellectual abilities I readily admit I didn’t what the hell was going on 90% of the time and had no clue who half the characters were, but the show had an above average amount of nudity and violence, my two favorite things, so I was on board.

Game of Thrones was one of the very few, in fact I think only, tv show I wrote about this year. As previously stated the show’s final season was a definite mixed bag and was not nearly as good as the seasons that preceded it. That said, watching King’s Landing get obliterated was as exhilarating a visual sequence as we have seen in the history of the medium.

The cast of Game of Thrones have always done solid, if not spectacular work. I think Emilia Clarke, Kit Harrington, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Peter Dinklage were among those who were the most spectacular.

THE BOYS - AMAZON: 4.5 stars

The Boys is an absolute gem of a show that is the best kept secret on tv. I seem to be the only person who has ever watched the program and have become a sort of evangelist in favor of it. I have told countless friends that they have to check this thing out.

The Boys beautifully deconstructs the corporate superhero mythology that is the dominant myth of our time. If you are sick of Marvel and Disney’s dominance of the superhero space…then watch The Boys. The show is an insightful and piercing commentary on the American corporatocracy, and it pulls no punches. It eviscerates the empty headed corporate flag waving of the media, Disney in particular, and tells more truth in its fiction than the establishment news has ever done in its reporting.

There is a sequence in the show, and I won’t give it away, but it deals with the Hegelian dialectic (problem - reaction - solution) and it is the absolute truth of our time and is brilliant.

The show stars Jack Quaid, who is the son of Meg Ryan and Dennis Quad. This is obvious but still kind of weird to see, but Jack is the perfect amalgam of his two famous parents. At times he looks exactly like his dad, and other times just like his mom…it is like he has his own weird famous parent morphing super power.

The rest of the cast, which includes Karl Urban, Antony Starr, Elisabeth Shue and Erin Moriarty, is top-notch and play their roles with aplomb.

The Boys is not perfect but it really is a fantastic show and a bolt of anarchist rebellious energy into the very stagnant super hero genre. This show actually made me yell in joy at one point at how subversive it is…I kid you not. Anyway, if you love super hero stuff, or are sick of superhero stuff…this is definitely the show for you.


MINDHUNTER - NETFLIX: 4.25 stars

Mindhunter is produced, and sometimes directed, by filmmaker David Fincher. One of my favorite Fincher films, and one of my favorite films period, is Zodiac. Zodiac is a rare Fincher film in that it sort of flew under the radar, in fact I didn’t even see it in the theatre. But after discovering the film a bunch of years ago, I cannot get enough of it…and even use scenes from it when I work with clients. I watch Zodiac so often it has become a running joke in my house…and probably with the FBI agents who are surveilling me.

Mindhunter is like an extended and expanded version of Zodiac, as it is set in relatively the same time frame, and shares the same visual and artistic aesthetic. Mindhunter is, not surprisingly since it is a Fincher project, beautifully shot and lit and looks great.

The acting in the show is solid and subtle, as the main cast maintain a tight lid on things. The guest stars, who play a panoply of serial killers, are creepily fantastic in bringing their famous killers to life.

Mindhunter is, at its core, an extremely well made “cop” show that is decidedly smart and mature. This show is Fincher at his best….moody, unnerving, menacing, unsafe. The show is so well- made I think it would be impossible to watch it and not end up double checking the locks own your windows and doors before going to bed at night and also not looking at the nearly invisible normal people who populate our surroundings and thinking, at least for a moment, that they might be, or are at least capable of being, super predators.

FLEABAG - Amazon: 4.5 stars

Fleabag is what feminist tv/film should be. It is not whiney and self serving with an axe to grind but aggressively funny and deeply reflective. Phoebe Waller-Bridge wrote and stars in the show and her performance is remarkable and her writing, scintillating.

The rest of the cast, which include Sian Clifford, Andrew Scott and the glorious Olivia Colman, give superb performances across the board.

What makes this show such an intrepid piece of feminist comedy is that the female lead has absolute agency, she is not a victim but an active participant in the mess that is her life. The plot of Fleabag is fueled by Waller-Bridge’s character’s actions, not by her responding to other people’s actions. If she is a victim it is of her own bad decisions, not of other people’s.

BLACK MIRROR - NETFLIX: 4 stars

Black Mirror really is a Twilight Zone for the 21st century. The show never fails to be unique, original, challenging and insightful and also never fails to surprise. Black Mirror boasts terrific writing, top notch direction and stellar casts.

What is great about Black Mirror is that all of the episodes are stand alone so you can watch them at your leisure. This season there are, at least so far, only three episodes and they are fantastic. The best of the bunch is “Striking Vipers” which is both shocking and funny.

I can’t remember being underwhelmed by any episodes of Black Mirror, but I can recall being completely freaked out by more than a few of them. (The one with the dog like hunting drones is stellar!)

THE HANDMAID’S TALE - HULU: 1.5 stars

The Handmaid’s Tale’s first season was an electric piece of television. The fact that the show was in production prior to Trump’s election but spoke so eloquently about women’s anxiety after he won, is a testament to the artistry and craftsmanship that went into making it. The problem though is that the show, which was so compelling in season 1, quickly jumped the shark in season 2, and in season 3 has gone full Evel Knevel on a tricycle over Jaws in a kiddie pool.

It is difficult to overstate what a heinous piece of crap this show has become. The only equivalent I can think of is the precipitous fall of House of Cards which was like a speeding train falling off a cliff after its first few seasons.

Just like House of Cards downfall, what saps The Handmaid’s Tale of drama is that there is no longer any genuine threat to the main character June. June has become an avatar for the girl power people in her audience and thus is given no genuine obstacles to overcome, just manufactured ones, by the fan servicing producers.

At one point while watching one of the episodes in season 3 I said out loud to no one in particular…”I hate this show”…and I really have grown to hate it, which is frustrating because the show in the first season, and Elizabeth Moss’ acting in that season, were just mesmerizing. But now the show really has devolved into a pointless, rambling, dramatically incoherent, self-reverential mess and Moss’ acting little more than her not blinking in order to cry and acting faux tough. The bottom line is this, if Gilead were as awful and authoritarian as it is supposed to be, then June would have been swinging from the wall a long time ago. At this point I watch the show praying she gets hung and puts us all out of our misery.

The show is just so…stupid and frustrating…and the characters equally stupid and frustrating. In season’s 2 and 3 The Handmaid’s Tale has abandoned any semblance of a coherent internal logic and now just seems to be winging it. It is safe to say I will not be returning to Gilead for season 4.

WHEN THEY SEE US - NETFLIX: 1 Star

This show, which is about the very relevant and important story of the Central Park Five, is produced by Oprah and directed by Ava DuVernay….and it shows. That is not a compliment. This mini-series is just God awful. It is embarrassingly maudlin, shmaltzy and unconscionably ham handed.

This show will no doubt win a bunch of Emmys, but that is only because it is the sort of anti-Trump, anti-racist screed that Hollywood dipshits gobble up like Xanax. But do not be deceived, this show is atrociously poorly made. The cast, most notably Jharrel Jerome, are abysmal. Jerome sets the craft of acting back decades, if not millennia, with his corny performance as Korey Wise, one of the Central Park Five.

What frustrated me so much about this mini-series was that it is based on what should be a dramatically potent true story, and a story that is so vital and relevant to our times. But in the hands of DuVernay, this story is sapped of any meaning, and instead turns out to be an emotionally manipulative piece of garbage better suited to the Lifetime channel than Netflix.

Sadly, this story of the Central Park Five is as true to life as the Central Perk Five of Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe. Yikes.

CHERNOBYL- HBO: 4 stars

This mini-series which recounts the 1989 nuclear disaster, starts out great but loses some dramatic momentum late as it staggers to the finish line. Chernobyl looks great from start to finish and is elevated by some great acting, most notably from Jared Harris.

The weak link with the show is the script, as it falls into the tired Boris and Natasha evil Soviet caricature too often. The historical accuracy of the show has been called into question as well, but that is somewhat excusable, but the tired cliches of Soviet inhumanity are not.

The first few episodes of the mini-series were as good as anything on television this year, but the finale was decidedly disappointing and underwhelming. That said, I enjoyed it for the great cast and for how well it was shot.

ESCAPE AT DONNEMARA - SHOWTIME: 2.5 stars

Escape At Donnemara, which was directed by Ben Stiller, is a wholly uneven enterprise. Just like Chernobyl it starts off strong, then there’s a lull and then a significant dramatic and artistic spike in the second to last episode…but then it finishes with a whimper.

Stiller certainly puts some artistic bows on the show, using music and sound and fading to black to nice effect, but ultimately the show only stays on the surface of things and there is never a sense that we are getting at any semblance of the truth.

One of the odd things about the show is that it can feel incredible slow, bordering on dull, and yet that leisurely pace pays no dramatic benefits because the narrative ultimately seems so rushed at the end of the day.

That said, I thought Paul Dano’s performance as Sweat was really phenomenal. Dano makes Sweat a real person, not some caricature. Dano’s Sweat is conflicted, with a vivid and pulsating inner life that is compelling to watch. The show would have been better served with more Paul Dano and not less.

Patricia Arquette’s performance is all show. Arquette’s Tilly is nothing more than a monotonous and endless droning on, and the acting never once reveals anything of use or honesty about Tilly.

Benicia del Toro gives what I would deem a rather lazy del Toro performance…we’ve seen this act before and it has grown tired.

Ultimately, this mini-series has its moments but ended up being unsatisfying.

VEEP - HBO: 4 Stars

Veep was good this season but not great. Of course, Veep had set the bar ridiculously high with its first six seasons, so topping it in the finale was always going to be a tough job.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is one of the wonders of the world, and her performance as Selena Meyer was so great as to be iconic. The rest of the cast were their usual stellar selves as well.

That said, season 7 felt like the show had definitely run its course and in the age of Trump, where reality is much stranger than fiction, seemed a bit, dare I say it…tame.

I liked season 7, but I think it was the weakest of all the Veep seasons.

BARRY - HBO: 4.5 Stars

Barry is awesome. This show perfectly captures the absurdity of the Hollywood experience for any actor trying to scratch out an existence and chase a dream. The acting class scenes are spot on and poignantly painful for their depiction of the shit show that is acting class in Hollywood.

What is so great about Barry is that it wonderfully mixes shocking violence with exquisitely subtle comedy. Few shows are ever able to do one or the other, but Barry is able to do both and do them extraordinarily well.

The straw that stirs the drink of Barry, is Bill Hader, who is a god send as assassin turned wannabe actor, Barry. Hader’s comedic timing and energy are exquisite, but it is his transformation into the ruthless assassin that makes the show real enough to be worthwhile. Hader is not just a funny man, he is a genuinely gifted dramatic actor, and his versatility is a rare trait indeed.

The rest of the cast, particularly Henry Winkler, are gloriously good. Winkler’s scene stealing work as Gene Cousineau is a stake through the heart of the ghost of Fonzie (hey, second Fonzie reference of this article!). Winkler perfectly captures the insincerity, dishonesty and desperation of those unfortunate souls who become acting teachers…I would know.

Barry is appointment viewing in my household.

Thus concludes my brief foray into television criticism, I hope you found it useful. My top picks this year are The Boys, Mindhunter, Fleabag, Black Mirror and Barry. None of those shows are for the feint of heart, so know that going in. I have no idea if any of these shows are nominated or will win at The Emmys on Sunday night…and more importantly, I don’t care…and neither should you.

©2019

Sicario: Day of the Soldado - A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating: 2.25 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. No need to see this film in the theatres, just wait to see it on Netflix or cable if you are interested.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado, written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by Stefano Sollima, is the sequel to the highly acclaimed Sicario (2015) that tells the story of U.S. black operators fighting drug and human trafficking along the U.S.-Mexico border. The film stars Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro, with supporting turns from Catherine Keener and Matthew Modine.

When I went to see Sicario: Day of the Soldad in the theatre on the morning of its opening day, something odd happened. After an usher introduced the film and showed patrons where the exits were in case of emergency, sort of like a cinema flight attendant, a crotchety old man sitting by himself in one of the first few rows of the second section of the theatre barked to the female usher to "COME HERE". This boorish old man's antics greatly displeased many patrons, mostly for its rudeness but also because of the racial dynamics at play, as the attendant was a young Black woman and the old man was White. As voices of resistance spoke up against the old man he proclaimed very loudly to everyone in the theatre to "mind your own business".

The theatre attendant gave a dismissive laugh and walked over to see what the man wanted. He then said very loudly... and to my great amusement considering Sicario: Day of the Soldad is about Mexican drug dealers..."get me a Mexican Coke". This old guy was obviously an ultra-asshole, but his "Mexican Coke" demand was even more insulting and bizarre than his order of "come here"...are movie theatre ushers waitresses now too? The attendant gave the guy a cursory answer along the lines of "I have something else to do" and stormed off with a laugh...leaving the tension filled theatre in a hurry.

After this rather strange and unsettling incident, I sat back and tried to enjoy my popcorn and root beer which I had, like the grown man that I am, gotten all by myself at the concession stand. At the concession stand I was, coincidentally enough,  served by a fellow who worked crew on a film I shot years ago. We exchanged pleasantries and caught up with each other while he rang me up for my popcorn and root beer. In hindsight, I wish I had sternly told him to get me a fucking Mexican Coke...but sadly I didn't.

Needless to say my movie going experience up to and including the post-old man Mexican Coke incident had been a roller coaster ride, first the pleasantness of catching up with an old comrade followed up by the ugliness of an old man demanding Mexican Coke...and the feature presentation hadn't even started yet. I could not figure out if all of these strange happenings were good or bad omens for my seeing of Sicario: Day of the Soldad...then the movie started.

In my vast cinema experience I have learned that sometimes you go to the theatre and the popcorn is stale and the root beer is flat and it ruins the whole movie for you. Other times, you go the the theatre and the popcorn is fresh and the root beer fizzy, but it is the movie that is stale and flat. Sicario: Day of the Soldad falls into the latter category and is sadly the cinematic equivalent of stale popcorn and flat root beer and all of the accompanying disappointment that goes along with them.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado has some very big cinematic shoes to fill as its predecessor, Sicario, was one of the best films of recent years that boasted Mickey Award® wins for Best Actress - Emily Blunt, and Best Cinematography - Roger Deakins, and Mickey® nominations for Best Director - Denis Villeneuve, and Best Screenplay- Taylor Sheridan along with a Best Picture nomination.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado does not in any way live up to the high standards of Sicario. The reasons for this are numerous and obvious, the most glaring being the drop in talent among the filmmakers. Day of the Soldado is directed by Stefano Sollima, and he is certainly no Denis Villeneuve. The new film also replaces famed cinematographer Roger Deakins with Dariusz Wolski, and Wolski cannot hold a candle to the grand master Deakins. And finally the movie replaces Emily Blunt with...well...no one.

Day of the Soldado's failure to replace Blunt isn't just a matter of star power or performance, it is a matter of structure. Sicario 2 has no main protagonist and therefore is so structurally unsound as to be useless, like a rudderless ship lost at sea. Blunt's performance in the original was exquisitely sublime, but even more importantly was the fact that the story was propelled forward by her character. Day of the Soldado has multiple narratives, one of an assassin out for revenge, another of a CIA agent who'll do anything to protect America, one about a teenage trafficker and finally one about a cartel princess, but none of them carry any dramatic or emotional resonance or are compelling enough to keep our interest. 

Taylor Sheridan is the best screenwriter working in Hollywood today, his scripts for Hell or High Water, Wind River and the original Sicario are truly fantastic and speak to the crisis of America and the American Male better than any films of the last quarter century. But Sheridan's screenplay for Day of the Soldado suffers from a stark lack of narrative focus and dramatic power, and is extremely poorly conceived and even more poorly executed. I was absolutely shocked at Sheridan for having written such a dilapidated script that lacks a coherent narrative, dramatic impact and cultural insight.

Director Sollima is simply ill-equipped to tackle the unwieldy beast that is Sheridan's script. Unlike his predecessor Villeneuve, Sollima seems more at home making a "cool" action type movie rather than a powerful drama. Day of the Soldado is littered with "cool guy" moments and one liners that feel more like something from a high-end Liam Neeson shoot-em up movie than an Oscar contender.

Benicio del Toro does solid work in reprising his role of assassin Allejandro Gillick...but he too falls into the "cool guy" mode of acting to fit the improbable script he is given. Gillick has morphed into a sort of Mexican Dirty Harry or a Charles Bronson character or something. Del Toro is a captivating screen presence but in Day of the Soldado his invincible Gillick jumps the shark into the incredulous.

Josh Brolin also does solid but unspectacular work in reprising his role of CIA black operator Matt Graver. Brolin has grown into a substantial actor and is having a particularly fruitful year, having co-starred in both Deadpool 2 and Avengers: Infinity War. In Day of the Soldado, Brolin is hamstrung by Sheridan's limp script that gives his character an arc that is simply not dramatically believable.

Other actors in the cast do not fair as well as del Toro and Brolin. Catherine Keener is atrocious as government bureaucrat Cynthia Foards. Keener's lack of verbal rhythm combined with her scattered performance, are so clueless as to be uncomfortable to watch.

Matthew Modine plays Secretary of Defense James Riley and is laughably bad. Modine tries as hard as he can to convey gravitas but it is like getting blood from a stone.

Sicario: Day of the Soldad is littered with time and logical inconsistencies as well as a flaccid narrative. None of the motivations of the characters makes sense and none of the conclusions are dramatically satisfying.

Instead of being a taut and tightly wound drama like its predecessor, Sicario 2 is a limp, poorly paced, confusing dark action movie that falls decidedly flat. Even though it has all the trappings of a great movie, it lacks the artistic courage to actually be one, and seems more interested in building a franchise than in telling a compelling story.

In conclusion, I was greatly disappointed by Sicario: Day of the Soldado, and I think you will be too. There is no sense in paying to see this film in the theatres, but if you really want to see it, buy your own root beer (or Mexican coke), make your own popcorn and  watch it when it comes out on Netflix or cable.

©2018

 

 

 

#OscarsSoWhite : Don't Believe the Hype?

***ESTIMATED READING TIME: 20 MINUTES***

On January 14, 2016, at 5:30 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) announced the nominations for the 81st Academy Awards. For the second year in a row none of the actors nominated in the four acting categories, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, were minorities. All twenty nominations went to White actors. The lack of Black acting nominees in particular, set off firestorms of outrage in the media and online.

A day after the nominations were announced, in response to the alleged "snub" of Black actors, artists and films, Spike Lee declared he would not attend the Oscar ceremony where he would have been an honored guest having been awarded an honorary Academy Award in November. Jada Pinkett Smith, wife of one of the actors thought to be "snubbed", Will Smith, also publicly declared she would "boycott" the awards show by not attending or watching it on television. Pinkett Smith tweeted "At the Oscars…people of color are always welcomed to give out awards…even entertain. But we are rarely recognized for our artistic accomplishments. Should people of color refrain from participating altogether?".

Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, a Black woman, said that changes would be made in order to make the Academy, which does not make public it's membership demographics but which is rumored to be 94% White and 77% male with a median age of 62, younger and more diverse. On January 20th, the Academy announced an expansion of membership to include more women and minorities and to make the membership younger and with more recent work experience in the industry. This has done little to quell the anger felt by the Black community and their supporters of all colors, which have used the #OscarsSoWhite meme as a rallying cry.

The emotional response by the #OscarsSoWhite community to what they perceive as racially biased slights and snubs by the Academy and the film industry are very understandable in a historical context, but that doesn't make them rational or even real. Racism is a deadly serious topic, and charges of racism are not a matter to be taken lightly. I believe that the reaction to the alleged slights by the Academy are a result of emotionalism and not rationalism. A closer look at the film business here in America and abroad, and the demographic reality of Black people in those places, shows that the perception of massive Black under-representation in the Oscar acting categories is not one backed up by facts. A closer examination of the films, artists and actors alleged to have been snubbed this year, and their artistic merit, shows that this controversy is much ado about nothing, at least in regards to race. That doesn't mean that racism doesn't exist, it just means that it isn't the reason there have been no Black actors nominated for Oscars in the last two years.

THE SUBJECTIVE

CONTEXT

Part of the uproar this year has to do with perceived snubs from last year. The film Selma is often brought up as a film that was snubbed along with its African-American director Ava Duvernay and its Black lead actor David Oyelowo. The thing that people tend to overlook is that yes, Duvernay and Oyolowo weren't nominated last year, but the film Selma was nominated for Best Picture and won an Oscar for Best Original Song.

Duvernay is a gifted director, and her work on Selma is admirable, but her not being nominated is far from a grievous slight. Selma is Duvernay's first major feature film, and if history is a guide, the Academy needs to be strongly convinced to give any first time director a nomination. It isn't impossible, but it is rare. For instance, John Singleton, an African-American man, was the youngest person ever nominated for Best Director and Best Screenplay for his first feature Boyz in The Hood. Selma is a good movie, but I think we can all agree that it is no Boyz in the Hood. And just to put the Academy's reluctance to embrace directors early in their careers into perspective, consider that Martin Scorsese, maybe the greatest American film director, was not even nominated for his fifth feature film Taxi Driver, one of the most iconic films in american cinematic history. In fact, the Academy didn't nominate Scorsese for Best Director until his seventh feature, Raging Bull, and it took the Academy another 30 years after Taxi Driver to finally give Scorsese an Oscar win with his Best Director award for The Departed.

Oyolowo was in a similar boat, as he was relatively unknown to the Academy prior to Selma. His work is terrific in the film, but it isn't transcendent. If Oyolowo had been a more familiar face to the Academy I believe he would have been nominated for Selma. If Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle or Jamie Foxx gave that same exact performance they would have been nominated because the Academy knows and trusts them and their work. Not nominating Oyolowo and Duvernay is not a decision based on racism, but on typical Academy trends and  politics. Which leads us to Oscars General Rule #1Except in the most rare of occasions and with the most transcendent performances, the Academy votes for talent with whom they are very familiar.

DEFINING OSCAR

Before going any further, we should try and define what exactly is the purpose of the Academy Awards. Historically, the goal of the Academy when giving out awards to is try and the thread the needle between commerce and art. It wants to reward 'prestige' films which are close enough to the mainstream that they are financially viable yet have artistic merit to them. The Academy wants people to tune in to their awards show, so they nominate films that people have heard of with famous actors in them, but that are not seen as pure popcorn, money making enterprises. I reek of the art house, so for my taste the Academy leans much too far towards commerce, but to the general public they probably lean much to far towards art with their awards. Regardless, this is what the Academy is trying to do. With all of that said, let's take a closer look at this year's controversy.

The purported snubbing of Black actors at this years Oscars has a very simple premise to it, that there are Black actors who gave better performances this year than the White actors nominated. So let's examine the performances most mentioned when discussing the Oscar snubs of this year and see if this premise could be a valid one. 

GUESS WHO'S NOT COMING TO DINNER?

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON

The first film mentioned is almost always Straight Outta Compton, the bio-pic of the famous rap group N.W.A. and their rise to fame, and their struggles once they got there. The film was very successful, making $200 million at the box office from a $28 million budget. Which brings us to… Oscars General Rule #2 : Box office success does not guarantee a film is great, or even good, and it certainly doesn't guarantee Oscar nominations. For instance, Star Wars : The Force Awakens, has made a billion dollars this past year but received no nominations. Sometimes films that are extremely financially successful do get nominations, Titanic for example, but that is not always the case.  

Straight Outta Compton is, in my professional opinion and to my terrible disappointment as a fan of N.W.A., not a great movie. It is a pretty standard, paint by numbers, musical bio-pic. It is not very compelling, it looks flat visually, and it has major pacing, performance and narrative issues. The thing that stands out the most to me about the film is how relentlessly safe it is, in structure and in execution. The fact that in reality, N.W.A. was so successful because they were deemed to be so "dangerous" and hard only heightens how flaccid and impotent the film really was. If you are someone who really loved the film and think it deserves an Oscar nomination, I would tell you that I believe that you are seeing the film you wanted to see and not the film that actually was.

In addition, there is not a single standout performance from any of the actors. Yes, the actors looked like the people they were playing, but none of the actors are even remotely good at actually, you know…acting. There is a lot of posing and preening, but there are no genuine human moments in the entire film. The acting performances are incredibly shallow and hollow, it is almost like watching someone trying to act someone who is trying to act. Giving an acting Oscar nomination to any of the cast would be the equivalent of nominating an Elvis impersonator.

Musical bio-pics of iconic bands like N.W.A. are not usually heartily embraced by the Academy. A perfect example is Oliver Stone's The Doors from 1991. Just like Straight Outta Compton, The Doors tells the story of a revolutionary American band from its start to finish and all the turmoil in between. Both films were made about twenty years after their musical subjects broke up and/or died. Unlike Straight Outta Compton though, The Doors had a two-time Oscar winning director at the helm, Oliver Stone, and had a universally praised, dynamic performance from its lead actor, Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison. Unlike Oliver Stone, Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray has had basically a journeyman's career with no track record for successful dramatic and artistically relevant films. Unlike Val Kilmer in The Doors, Straight Outta Compton has no well known lead actors and none of them give performances that would rank up there with Kilmer's Morrison. The Academy gave no nominations to The Doors film, its director Stone or its lead actor Kilmer. Like many people, the Academy didn't like The Doors, and like many people, they didn't love Straight Outta Compton either.

One thing to point out is that Straight Outta Compton, like Selma, was not entirely overlooked by the Academy, but rather got a nomination for Best Screenplay. The problem for many though is that the writers of the film were White and not Black. #OscarsSoWhite have used this as proof that the Academy is racist as it shows they only reward White artists and not Black ones. This is just a short cut to thinking. I guarantee you that Academy members had no idea what color the writers of Straight Outta Compton were and just threw the unworthy film a bone in the form of a screenplay nomination in order to NOT be perceived as being racist. Straight Outta Compton doesn't deserve a screenplay nomination, but the fact that people use this one nomination as proof of racism is the height of absurdity. One question that maybe the #OscarsSoWhite people should be asking as opposed to why the Academy only nominated the White writers, is why did Ice Cube hire White writers instead of Black writers to write his film? Could it be that Ice Cube just wanted the best writers he could get at the price he was willing to pay, and these White writers filled the bill? Is Ice Cube racist because he hired White people to write his film? The answer to that is obvious.

WILL SMITH : PARENTS JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND

Another actor often brought up as being rebuffed by the Academy is Will Smith for his performance in the film Concussion. Again, this is quite a stretch in searching for proof of racially biased snubs. Will Smith is, or was at one time, a giant movie star, but he is not now nor has he ever been a great actor. If Will Smith had made Concussion fifteen years ago, he would have been nominated, because he was, at that time, at the height of his career. Which bring us to…General Oscars Rule #3 : The Academy rewards big money-making movie stars for taking chances on prestige films, hence Smith being nominated for Michael Mann's Ali and for his work in The Pursuit of Happyness. It would be an error to conclude that Smith gave great performances in those films because he was nominated, he didn't. He was very average in The Pursuit of Happyness and he was not good at all in Ali, but the Academy rewards people who make them a lot of money, and Will Smith made a helluva lot of people a helluva lot of money, so he was rewarded by the Academy for taking the chance on those two prestige-type films. For an example of the Academy rewarding a movie star with a nomination, look back to Harrison Ford, the box office champ of all time with the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films, and his lone nomination for Witness. Ford wasn't great in Witness, but he had made people tons of money, so the Academy rewarded him for that. Ford tried his hand at other 'prestige' type films, Mosquito Coast and Regarding Henry as two examples, and his work was ignored by the Academy both times.

It is also mildly amusing that Smith and N.W.A. should be brought up in the same Oscar discussion as they are polar opposites in regard to their rap music ability and credibility. Will Smith got into the music and film businesses in order to get rich and famous, not to express his artistic self like N.W.A., this is painfully obvious by the choices he made. His rap career was the worst, most cringe worthy attempt to appeal to as large an audience as possible. Remember "Parents Just Don't Understand"?  In contrast to N.W.A.'s body of work, and Dr. Dre and Ice Cube's post-N.W.A. work, Smith is a laughably soft and weak rapper. His acting career has been equally tepid and just as pandering. Remember "The Fresh Prince"or the calculatingly formulaic Bad Boys, Men in Black, Independence Day and Wild, Wild, West? Smith has succeeded not by being great at anything he attempted, be it rapping or acting, for he is mind numbingly average at both, but by being an extremely appealing presence and a genuinely likable guy. Being so likable and enriching so many people is how he got nominated for Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness. For Smith to feel slighted that he is not getting his artistic due with his lackluster performance in Concussion is beyond a ludicrous.

CREED

Which brings us to Creed. There has been much angst that Sylvester Stallone (who is White) was nominated for his role in the 6th Rocky movie but that Michael B. Jordan (who is African-American) was not nominated. Again, this has nothing to do with race. Michael B. Jordan is a terrific young actor, with a great chance at a bevy of Oscar nominations in his future. The reality is that Creed is nowhere near an Oscar worthy film either, but that it is perceived to be Stallone's swan song. It might not actually be his swan song, and the Academy might be getting head faked by the Lazarus-esque Italian Stallion, but the Academy wanted to reward him for his long career and to let walk him off into the sunset a winner (much like they have done with Clint Eastwood…on numerous occasions). Stallone was rewarded for Creed not because he was great in it, but because he, and the film, were 'good enough' given the low expectations they had going in, to give him a pass.

Which brings us to General Oscars Rule #4 :The Academy eventually rewards actors for their long careers and for making a lot of people a lot of money over the course of their careers. Look, God knows Stallone is no Marlon Brando, but he has made people very rich with not only his Rocky movies but with Rambo and all his other films. The question could be raised, if the Academy is rewarding Stallone for all the money he's made people, why not reward Will Smith too? Well, the biggest issue here is not race, but age. Will Smith needs to be around for another two decades or so before the Academy will contemplate giving him what they are giving Stallone, which really amounts to a lifetime achievement type of Oscar nomination. In other words, it simply isn't Will Smith's time yet.

Michael B. Jordan has a truly fantastic career ahead of him, but Creed is the 6th Rocky movie and isn't exactly a prestige film. It was perceived as a money grab to make one more Rocky movie, but the film was better than expected, which doesn't make it great, it just makes it not awful. This is not a reason to nominate the film or Jordan. The same can be said of director Ryan Coogler, who has a very bright future ahead of him as well, but a Rocky sequel is not the place to cry foul on not getting an Oscar nomination.

SAMUEL L. JACKSON

Samuel L. Jackson has also been mentioned as being snubbed for his work in The Hateful Eight. Samuel Jackson has done some remarkable work in his career, but The Hateful Eight is not one of his better performances. It is very derivative of his other, better work (from Pulp Fiction for instance, where he was nominated), and the fact that the film is a lesser outing from Quentin Tarantino doesn't help his argument either.

I would argue that Jackson has lost out on nominations before, most notably in Tarantino's Django Unchained and in Spike Lee's Jungle Fever, but I don't believe those lack of nominations were the result of racial bias, just a weak-kneed, poor taste in film by the Academy.

BEASTS OF NO NATION

The performance by a black actor that I think should have been nominate this year, but wasn't, is Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation. I believe the film, it's young Ghanaian-born lead actor Abraham Atta, and Idris Elba all deserved Oscar nominations. Beasts of No Nation, Atta and Elba were not overlooked because of racism, but because of the insidious arrogance of the film business. Beasts of No Nation was distributed by Netflix and because Netflix skirted some arrangements with movie theaters, it was only shown in very limited release in theaters. It was available immediately on Netflix though. The Academy still hasn't wrapped their head around Netflix and looks at Beasts of No Nation as some sort of hybrid film/tv project. Which brings us to…  General Oscars Rule #5 : The Academy only respects film, not tv. Thus Beasts of No Nation was in an industry no man's land and the film, Elba's and Atta's performances were lost to the Academy voters. This is a terrible oversight but not a racially motivated one.

WHO SHOULDN'T BE NOMINATED?

When #OscarsSoWhite talk publicly about the racism in the Academy and this year's lack of Black actors, one thing remains elusive but very important, namely, what White actors who were nominated shouldn't have been nominated. If the #OscarsSoWhite people are going to accuse Academy members of being racist and nominating people based on race, why wouldn't the #OscarsSoWhite people have the courage to say what actors they think should not have been nominated? This is a pretty important point that no one seems to want to bring up.

Who should Will Smith replace on the Best Actor list? Michael Fassbender? Leonardo DiCaprio? Eddie Redmayne? What about Samuel L. Jackson? Should he replace Matt Damon? Or Bryan Cranston? There are arguments to be made, but #OscarsSoWhite has to have the courage to actually make them. They can't say one person deserves a nomination without implying another person doesn't deserve it, so they should have the intestinal fortitude to tell us who they would throw out. 

Since I am asking people to say who should NOT be nominated, I will go first. This year I think Abraham Atta from Beasts of No Nation should, without question, be nominated for Best Actor over Bryan Cranston of Trumbo. Trumbo is a dreadful film and Cranston is awful in it. I would also have nominated Idrs Elba of Beasts of No Nation over Sylvester Stallone from Creed. As previously stated, there are reasons that have nothing to do with race as to why Stallone and Cranston were nominated this year over Atta and Elba. The first reason is (General Oscars Rule #5) the Academy's issue with the releasing of the film through Netflix and not into theaters. The other reasons are that (General Oscars Rule #1) Atta is a total unknown and Bryan Cranston is a beloved actor in Hollywood for his previous work. Elba being overlooked has to do with the Netflix issue (General Oscars Rule #5) and with the Academy rewarding Stallone for his long and prosperous career (General Oscars Rule #4). 

A final note about snubs in general. Snubs happen every year to all sorts of actors. great actors get snubbed one year when they deserve a win, and then get an award another year when they don't. The Academy is slow to reward fresh talent, and quick to give make-up awards. For instance, Denzel Washington should have won a Best Actor Oscar for his tremendous work in Malcolm X. While Denzel was nominated he ended up losing the award to Al Pacino for his work in Scent of a Woman. Denzel deserved the win, but Pacino got the trophy. This was not due to racism, it was because of the fact that the Academy had overlooked Pacino's stellar work earlier in his career. Which brings us to General Oscars Rule #6 : The Academy makes up for most of their very stupid mistakes over time. So in this case, Pacino, who didn't win for his unbelievably great work two decades earlier in The Godfather and Godfather II, Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon, finally got his award for a less than stellar performance in Scent of a Woman. Denzel was overlooked for his remarkable work in Malcolm X, but a decade later got his Best Actor Oscar for a good but not great (by his lofty standards) performance in Training Day. Another example of this rule in action is that in 1990 Martin Scorsese was nominated but did not win for Best Director for his time-less classic Goodfellas. Instead the Academy gave the Best Director award to…GULP…Kevin Costner for Dances With Wolves. This is maybe the most egregious and embarrassing of idiotic mistakes the Academy has made in recent history. But, a decade and a half later, the Academy made it "right" by awarding Scorsese a Best Director Oscar for his rather underwhelming work on The Departed. The Academy can be pretty maddening in its choices, and slow to recognize true genius but…this is how the Academy works, and as Denzel Washington and Martin Scorsese and Al Pacino can attest, it works this way regardless of race.

THE STATISTICS

DEMOGRAPHICS AS DESTINY?

African-Americans have long been a marginalized minority group here in America. Black history is littered with one heinous struggle after another, from slavery to Jim Crow to civil rights and beyond. The African-American community's perception of racially motivated slights, or outright racism, is strongly grounded in historical precedence, so one can't blame that community's thought from taking the shape of a hammer and seeing every problem as the nail of racism. In the case of the Academy Awards though, that perception does not perfectly align with reality.

According to the US Census, in 2014 African-Americans made up 13.2% of the general population of the United States, and, rather interestingly, according to a 2014 study by the Motion Picture Association of America, they made up 12% of the movie ticket buying population. In contrast, Latinos only made up 17.4% of the general population but 23% of the movie ticket buying population.  Asians/others made up 8% of the general population and 11% of the movie ticket buying population. Non-hispanic Whites made up 62.1 % of the general population (not to be confused with European-Americans, who make up 72.4% of population) but only made up 54% of the movie ticket buying population. What does this have to do with Oscar snubs and potential racism? A closer look at Oscar history and statistics reveals that the Academy's choices may not be as racially biased as some perceive them to be.

THIRTY YEARS

In the last 30 years, since 1986, there have been 120 Oscar winners in the acting categories, and there have been 12 Black actors who have won Oscars. Which means that 10% of all acting Oscar winners have been Black, which is 24% below the percentage of African-Americans in the general  U.S. population and 17% below their percentage in the movie ticket buying population.

An even closer look at this 10% number shows us that while it is roughly 24% below the national population percentage of African-Americans, it is actually above the percentage of the African-American population in the state of California where the film industry is centered and one can assume it is also where the majority of the Academy members either live or have lived. In California, African-Americans make up 7% of the general population, and more specifically to the movie industry, in Los Angeles County make up 8.7% of the general population.  Even more specifically to Hollywood, African-Americans make up 9.6% of the general population of the city of Los Angeles. So, the 10% win rate of Oscars for Black actors mirrors back to Academy members almost exactly the general population of the city in which most of them have lived and worked.

Another number of interest is the population of english speaking countries with vibrant film industries, as those countries would more than likely have members in the Academy. So if you add up the total populations of the U.S., U.K., Australia, and Ireland, the Black population combined comes to 9% of the total overall population in those countries. Meaning that according to this metric, Black actors are over-represented by 10% in Oscar wins over the last thirty years. If you add Canada's total population to the U.S., U.K., Australia and Ireland grouping, and add Canada's black population to those countries Black population, the numbers turn out exactly the same, with the Black population being 9% of the overall population. If you reduce the metric to just the U.S. and Canada's populations together, then their overall Black population is 10.9%, showing a small under-representation in terms of Black actor Oscar wins.

When you expand the numbers over the last thirty years to look at Oscar acting nominations and not just wins, the numbers thin, as there have been 600 acting nominees since 1986 and 44 of them have been Black. That is 7.3% of the nominees, which is slightly higher than the percentage of African-Americans living in California, and slightly lower than the Black population in Los Angeles, L.A. county and in the general population of the U.S., U.K., Ireland and Australia combined.

TWENTY YEARS

If you look at Oscar nominations and wins over the last twenty years (1996-2015), Black actors have been nominated 33 times out of 400 nominations and have won 10 Acting Oscars out of 80. That means from 1996 to 2015 (the Oscar ceremony is in February but it awards films from 2015), Black actors have a nomination rate of 8.25% and an Oscar win rate of 12.5%. The win rate is a 25% increase from the thirty year rate (10%) and gives Black actors 24% wins over their population rate in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland and Australia. The 12.5% win rate is also 4% higher than the Black percentage of the movie ticket buying population. The nomination rate has increased 11.5% from the thirty year rate and has reduced Black actor under-representation in nominations from the thirty year mark of 19% to 8.3%.

TEN YEARS

If you look at the last ten years, 2006-2015,  Black actors were nominated for Oscars 18 times out of 200 nominations, and won 5 Oscars out of 40. The ten year nomination rate is 9% and the win rate is 12.5%. Compared to the twenty year rates, the nominations have increased by 5.8%, and the win rate has stayed exactly the same. The win rate of 12.5% is still 24% higher than the Black percentage of population in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland and Australia and 4% higher than the movie ticket buying population in the U.S.. The nomination rate is exactly the same as the population rate of Blacks in the U.S., Canada, U.K. Ireland and Australia general population combined. This is a pretty fascinating statistic.

CASTING

Another argument by the #OscarsSoWhite movement is that Black actors are under-represented in the casting of roles, so they have fewer opportunities to be nominated for Oscars. According to a study by the Annenberg Center for Communications and Journalism, this is simply not the case. Black actors were cast at a rate of 12.6% from 2007 to 2013 (the last year of the study) which is exactly proportional to their percentage of the U.S. population in the 2010 Census, which is 12.6%. When you expand the casting rate of Black actors to the wider english speaking film industry, they are over-represented by 28.5% in proportion to their 9% population percentage in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland, and Australia over that same time period. 

According to the Screen Actors Guild, Black actors are 12% of their membership, which is roughly equivalent to their percentage of the U.S. population in the 2010 Census, and to their Oscar win rate percentage over the last twenty years. Another SAG study from 2007-2008 (the most recent year that study results are available) shows that Black actors are slightly over-represented in casting of film/TV roles, snagging 14.8% of total roles. Black actors were cast in 13.2% of lead roles and 16% of supporting roles.  Black actors being cast in 14.8% of total roles is 10.8% higher than the black percentage of the U.S. general population and 19% higher than the Black actor percentage of the Screen Actors Guild population. Also, it is 39% higher than the Black percentage of the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland and Australia general population. Black actors being cast in 13.2% of leading roles is perfectly in line with the Black percentage of the U.S. population, which according to the U.S. Census information from 2014 is 13.2%.

In addition, the Economist Magazine did their own study and found that Black actors get 9% of the top roles in films (they define "top roles" as the top three names on the cast list at IMDB, in films with a 7.5 rating or higher, an American box office gross of at least $10M, and which were neither animated nor foreign-language). Interestingly enough, The Economist claims this shows that Black actors are under-reopresented in "top roles" as compared to the U.S. population, but what it really shows is that The Economist misinterprets their own study by ignoring the vital data of the populations of Canada, U.K., Ireland and Australia in addition to the U.S.

A QUICK REVIEW 

A quick review shows a steady progress for Black actors over the last thirty years in regards to Oscar nominations and wins. The Oscar nomination rate has gone from 7.3% (30 yrs.) to 8.25% (20 yrs.) to 9% (10 yrs.). The Oscar win rate for Black actors has gone from 10% (30 yrs.) to 12.5% (20 yrs.) and held steady at 12.5% (10 years). This seems to be in stark contrast to the claims made by the #OscarsSoWhite people.

The statistics also show that Black actors were cast in roles from 2007-2013 at a rate of 12.6% which is in identical proportion to the black percentage of the general U.S. population over that same time period (2010 Census: 12.6% African-American population percentage). The numbers also show that Black actors are cast in "top roles" 9% of the time, which is in direct proportion to their 9% population rate in the wider english speaking film industry nations of the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland and Australia.

PERCEPTION AND REALITY

As the statistic show, Black acting Oscar winners are under-represented when compared to the African-American population in the U.S. but are slightly over-represented in regards to the wider english speaking industry, and are right in line with or slightly higher than the African-American population in California, L.A. and L.A. County. But the perception remains that somehow they are dramatically and unfairly under-represented, why is that? I think part of the answer to that question is that Black people are massively over-represented in other media and entertainment fields when compared to the general U.S. population. For instance, on the Forbes list of the most powerful people in entertainment, seven of the top ten people on the list are Black. That is pretty extraordinary considering it is 6 times greater than the African-American representation in the general U.S. population.

The same can be said of the Black percentage of players in professional sport. 74.4.% of all NBA players are Black as opposed to the 23% that are White. That means that Black players in the NBA are over-represnted by roughly 82% when compared to their general population percentage in the U.S. 68% of all NFL players are Black as compared to the 28% who are White, which means Black NFL players are over-represented by 80.5% in relation to their percentage of the U.S. population. These numbers are wildly out of sync with the general population numbers and can give a distorted perception of the demographic reality of the Black population here in the U.S. 

Adding together the inordinate amount of Black entertainers at the top of their fields and Black athletes populating professional sports, it is easy to see where the perception of racism in regards to the Oscars can take shape. By awarding only 10%-12.5% of the acting awards to Black actors, the Oscars seem to fall horrendously short in recognizing Black people when compared to other areas of public life. But the reality is that the Oscars aren't greatly under-representing Black artists, but rather that the other areas, be they music, TV or sport, dramatically over-represent Black people.

The movie business is a business and so these demographic numbers tell us the real story. Racism isn't behind the Academy or the industry and their relationship to blacks, but money is. Blacks make up 13.2% of the U.S. population and 12% movie going population, but according to the MPAA study they only make up 10% of the multiple movie going population (people who see more than one film in a theatre in a given year). In purely business terms, the Black audience is stagnant at best and at worst, shrinking. So not trying to appease or chase the Black audience is not about racism, but it is about the bottom line. Add to these numbers the perceived reluctance of foreign markets, particularly the Chinese market, the holy grail of every studio executive in Hollywood, to embrace Black actors (whether this perception is based on facts is a discussion for another day, but I find it dubious), and you have a recipe for the Black minority to be even more marginalized by Hollywood than they are by their demographic reality in America. Hollywood may be a lot of things, but the one thing it is without question…is a cut-throat, bottom line business. The powers that be in Hollywood do care a great deal about color, but that color is green.

This may not be a pleasant reality, but it is the reality. It is easier to be emotionally swayed to  accuse the Academy and film industry as being "racist" rather than actually looking at and digesting the facts and figures. Black actors are being treated and rewarded right in line with their perceived economic usefulness to the film industry's money lusting overlords. You can rightly blame capitalism, corporatism, globalization or demographics, but you'd be unwise to blame racism, because then you'd be ignoring reality, no matter how cold and hard it may be. 

A DRY WHITE SEASON

If, as the #OscarsSoWhite people seem to be arguing, you believe that the racial breakdown of the U.S. population should be mirrored by Oscar nominations and wins, then there is another group of people who are under-represented in Acting Oscar nominations and wins over the last thirty years….White Americans. Since 1986, there have been 362 nominations for White American actors, which is a percentage rate of 60%. White American actors have won acting Oscars 65 times in this same time period which means they win 54% of the time. Non-hispanic White Americans are 62% of the general U.S. population, which means that White American actors are under-represented in nominations by 3.2%. If you also include Canada in with the U.S., the amount of under-representation slightly grows, as the White population is 67% in the combined countries and the Oscar nomination and win rate stay the same, meaning American/Canadian Whites are under-represented by 10.4% in nominations and 19.4% in wins.

Over the last twenty years White-American actors have a 56.75% nomination rate (227 nominations out of 400) and a win rate of 42.5% (34 wins out of 80). This means that White-American actors are under-represented over the last twenty years by roughly 8.5% in nominations and roughly 31.5% in wins when compared to the White population percentage in the U.S.

Over the last ten years, White-American actors have a 65% nomination rate (144 out of 220) and a 37.5% Oscar win rate (15 out of 40). This means that White-American actors are over-represented over the last ten years by roughly 5% in nominations and under-represented over the same time period by roughly 40% in Oscar wins when compared to the percentage of Whites in the general population of the U.S.. 

When you take nationality out of the analysis, things get even more interesting. If you combine all of the White American actors and the white Canadian, British, Irish and Australian actors to have been nominated in the last thirty years, it comes to 520 nominations. 520 nominations is 86% of all of the acting nominations and the white populations 96 wins are 80% of all Oscar wins over this same thirty year time period. This seems to back up the argument that White actors, regardless of nationality, are massively over-represented. The White population of the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland and Australia is 66% of the overall population of those countries combined. Which means that White english speaking actors are over-represented by 17.5% in Oscar wins and 23% in Oscar nominations. Although, if you only count the White and Black populations, and eliminate all other races and ethnicities, in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland and Australia, then things align a bit more in that Whites make up 87.4% of the population and have been awarded 86% of acting Oscar nominations and 80% of wins, and Blacks make up 12.6% of that population and have been awarded 10% of acting Oscar wins and 7.3% of nominations over the same time period.

While this proves that U.S., Canada, U.K., Irish and Australian White actors are over-represented in regards to the total population, our earlier analysis shows that this over-representation does not come at the detriment of Black actors. So who is getting left out and why?

THE SILENT MINORITIES : LATINOS AND ASIANS

In terms of America, the answer is pretty obvious, Latinos are dramatically under-represented in the acting categories in relation to their percentage of the U.S. general population. As previously stated, Latinos make up 17.4% of the U.S. general population, but with just 5 acting nominations in the last 30 years, make up .008% of the nominated actors. The only Latino American actors to have ever been nominated are Edwards James Olmos (Best Actor), Andy Gracia (Best Supporting Actor), Benicio del Toro (two Best Supporting Actor nominations), and Rosie Perez (Best Supporting Actress). Del Toro represents the lone Latino American acting Oscar win for his work in Traffic, which brings the Latino American win rate to .008%. Even when taking into account the expansion of the Latino population in America over the last thirty years, this statistic is pretty shocking and oddly consistent.

If you expand the search criteria to actors who speak Spanish as a primary language then the numbers mildly soften. There have been 11 actors nominated from majority Spanish speaking countries over the last 30 years, with 5 nominations coming from Spain, 3 from Mexico, 2 from Argentina and 1 from Columbia. There is only one win, that being Spaniard Penelope Cruz for Best Supporting Actress for her work in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The percentage of nominations for Hispanic/Latino/Spanish speaking actors over the last thirty years is roughly .027%. The percentage of wins is roughly .017%.  Even if you expand the U.S. Latino population into the "English Speaking, vibrant film industry" countries of the U.S., U.K., Ireland and Australia, the U.S. Latino population is still 3.5%, well above their Oscar nomination and win rate.

Another group of people seriously under-represented in Acting Oscar nominations and wins are Asians-Americans. Asians make up 6% of the U.S. population, yet an Asian-American actor has not been nominated at all in the last thirty years. When you expand the search to Asians across the globe, there have been just two nominations, one best Supporting Actor nod for Japanese actor Ken Watanabe in The Last Samurai and a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Japanese actress Rinko Kakuchi for Babel. That equals a .002% rate for Asian nominations and a 0.0% win rate over the last thirty years, both of which are obviously drastically below the Asian-American U.S. population percentage and so small as to nearly incalculable in regards to the global Asian population.

If we are trying to understand why the Latino and Asian communities are under-represented, we have to make a bunch of assumptions that I don't have the data to confirm or deny. The main assumption is that language is a big barrier to foreign-born Latino and Asian actors. Acting in your primary language is one thing, but the difficulty of acting in a second language cannot be over estimated. Knowing how to speak a language is one thing, and knowing the rhythms, nuances and intricacies of it are entirely another. Also, the Academy is more likely than not, made up of english speakers, so films in foreign languages may get less of a viewing opportunity from members who don't want to read subtitles, and the subtlety of performances may be lost to those not fluent in the language being spoken on screen. Those may be some of the reasons why Latino and Asian actors are so under-represented, but frankly, this argument holds little to no water in regards to Asian-Americans and Latino-Americans, as it assumes that Latino-Americans or Asian-Americans are recent immigrants who are not entirely assimilated into the culture and language, which based on my own personal experience, is an extremely weak premise at best and totally absurd at worst.

It should be noted though that Japan, China, Korea and India all have thriving film industries in their own right, so there would be less of a pressing want or need for success in Hollywood coming from those areas. That said, Asian and Latino directors have still found some success in the Academy where Asian and Latino actors have not. In fact, the last three Best Director Oscar winners have been Latino or Asian, with Mexican directors Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Innaritu winning in 2013 and 2014 respectively and Taiwanese director Ang Lee winning his second Best Director Oscar in 2012. Innaritu is nominated again this year for The Revenant (his third Best Director nomination) and may be a favorite to win the award. The relative success of Latino and Asian filmmakers in recent years is a positive for the film industry and for diversity of artistic vision, even if it hasn't yet translated into more Asian and Latino actors gracing our movie screens.

In looking at the numbers what strikes me the most is that people like Jada Pinkett-Smith, Spike Lee and the #OscarsSoWhite movement are mostly directing their outrage at only Black actors being "snubbed" and under-represented and not about Latino and Asian actors being overlooked. I suppose this makes sense in the case of Lee and Pinkett-Smith since both are African-American. In contrast, what is fascinating to me is that the Latino and Asian communities are not up in arms and claiming racism over their obvious exclusion from the Academy Awards like the Black community has been. Why that is I don't know, but it is very striking nonetheless since the Asian and Latino communities have a much more solid argument. There is a much more compelling case to be made for Benicio del Toro to have been nominated this year for Sicario than there is for any of the previously mentioned Black actors to have been nominated. But the question becomes, was del Toro not nominated because he is Latino? Since Del Toro has been nominated and won an Oscar before, that is a difficult argument to prove.

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

Which brings us to another uncomfortable question, namely, when race, religion and ethnicity comes up in regards to under-representation, slights and snubs, what group is being over-represented? The "safe" answer is to say "Whites". Of course, not all Whites are the same, or created equal in terms of Hollywood. What does that mean? It means that the thing you aren't supposed to say is something you need to say if you want to have an honest discussion. Namely, that another minority in America, Jews, who make up 1.2% of the general population, are massively over-represented in the film business. This is an easily observable fact. Look at the heads of many of the studios and agencies, Brad Grey at Paramount, Bob Iger at Disney, Michael Lynton at Sony, Les Moonves at CBS/Viacom, Ronald Meyer at Universal, Ari Emanuel at William Morris and Harvey Weinstein at the Weinstein Company, these are just a few of the Jewish movers and shakers in Hollywood.

In regards to Acting Oscar nominations and wins, in just the Best Actor category alone, Jewish actors have won nine times in the last thirty years, for a win rate of 30%, and have been nominated 23 times for a rate of 15.3%. Both the Best Actor win rate and nomination rate are well above the 1.2% Jewish population rate in the U.S. But the question becomes, is that a problem? Is it bad that Jews make up the majority of Hollywood power brokers and a disproportionate amount of Oscar nominees and winners when they are a tiny minority in the population at large? If #OscarsSoWhite thinks Blacks are under-represented than they should have the courage to say that Jews are massively over-represented. This is an extremely uncomfortable topic for obvious historical reasons, but it needs to be brought up if we are saying that the Academy is racist, since the Academy, like Hollywood, is likely populated by many Jews.

In my opinion the answer to the question of Jewish over-representation is…what difference does it make? Just like with Blacks being the overwhelming majority of players in the NBA and NFL, or being 7 of the top 10 most powerful people in entertainment, it is entirely irrelevant. Making it in professional sports requires not only inordinate talent but an immense amount of hard work. So it is with entertainment in general and the film industry in particular. If you succeed in any of these fields it is not because of your race, religion or ethnicity, it is because you are just plain better than the competition and/or have worked harder. In all bottom line businesses, be they sport, entertainment or any other, if you don't get better results than your competition, you won't be around very long. There is no room for ethnic, racial or religious loyalty when victory is the only goal.

CONCLUSION 

Hollywood is an awful, awful place. The film industry is brutal and dehumanizing. Women in particular, of all ethnicities, are treated absolutely atrociously. All people, regardless of color, are seen as little more than opportunities for the powerful to exploit for their own profit. The business is next to impossible to break into, and even when you do break in, you basically have to sell your soul just to get in the room to have the opportunity to audition for a part that might lead to another audition that might lead to another part that might actually get you somewhere. But there is always someone else, someone better looking, someone more interesting, someone better connected, someone 'newer' and 'fresher', or someone just plain better. This is life in Hollywood and entertainment….regardless of color, religion or nationality. The callous gauntlet of Hollywood could not care less about your race, religion or ethnicity, it just wants to know what you can do for it, not what it can do for you.

In the final analysis, the Academy Awards are a pretty ridiculous endeavor, where wealthy, famous and powerful people congratulate one another on how fantastic they think they all are. It is a narcissism measuring contest held by the Narcissism Society of America in the Narcissism Capital of the World (well…it is in the top three with Wall St. and Washington D.C.). The Academy is many things...stupid, sentimental, cowardly, myopic, greedy, but to blindly and emotionally call it racist would be to reduce the power of that charge and diminish the needed impact it would have in areas where the diabolical curse of racism is real and at times deadly. #OscarsSoWhite is a misguided meme that unwittingly endorses emotionalism over rationalism, feelings over reason and a distorted but understandable perception over reality. People would be more accurate, and better served, to say #OscarsSoSHITE than to say #OscarsSoWhite. Regardless, if someone says the Oscars are racist because there are no Black acting nominees this year, be sure to tell them...#DontBelieveTheHype!!!

©2016

Sicario : A Review and Reports From Down the Rabbit Hole of the Drug War

*** WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!!! CONSIDER THIS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT!!!***

MY RATING : SEE IT IN THE THEATRE!!

Sicario, written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by Denis Villeneuve, is a taut and tense drama that tells the story of FBI Special Weapons and Tactics Team Agent Kate Macer and her descent into the murky world of the international Drug War. The film stars Emily Blunt as Agent Macer, with supporting turns by Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin.

As Sicario opens, we see Blunt's Macer in full tactical gear riding with her team to raid a house. The cookie cutter house is in the Arizona suburbs, but it could be any house, in any suburban neighborhood, in any state in America. The house, like the film, looks like one thing on the surface, but the deeper you look into it, the more shocking, complicated and dangerous realities it reveals. That house, symbolic of the American dream, reveals the violence, the corruption, the peril and the cancer that is the American Drug War. Sicario teaches us that not only won't Macer leave that house the way she went in, but America won't leave the Drug War the same way it went in either.

After the raid on the house, Macer is approached to be a part of a mysterious special task force headed by Matt Garver (Josh Brolin) who wants to find those responsible for the horrors found in that suburban Arizona home. Macer rightly senses that she doesn't know the whole story of the mission or who, exactly, this unkempt, flip-flop wearing Garber guy works for, but she agrees to work with him anyway. She then follows Garber, and his partner Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) down into the rabbit hole of the Drug War, where friend is foe and foe is friend, sometimes all at once.

Garber and Gillick lead Macer on a journey into the heart of darkness, with pit stops in Juarez, Tuscon and a honky-tonk bar. By the end of the journey, Macer will have been nearly choked to death, shot and betrayed by friend and enemy alike. Macer learns the hard way that nothing and no one is what they seem to be in the Drug War.

Along with Emily Blunt's very solid acting work, both Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro give quality performances. Del Toro is particularly captivating as the enigmatic Gillick. Del Toro gives Gillick an internally vibrant wound that makes the character pulsate with a subtly menacing righteousness and magnetism. Brolin is terrific as the morally and ethically vacuous CIA agent who doesn't care who wins the drug war, just that there is one.

To go along with the quality acting in Sicario, director Denis Villeneuve, cinematographer Roger Deakins and composer Johan Johansson all do magnificent work. Villenueve deftly creates a heightened and palpable tension throughout the film that is mesmerizing. Even as the first opening credits roll, a faint yet ominously unsettling deep tone from composer Johan Johansson can be heard rumbling just beneath the surface. It sets the tone for the underlying danger that permeates the entire movie, adroitly heightened by Johannson's work. The only other film of director Villeneuve's I have seen is Prisoners which I found to be very disappointing. With Sicario, Villeneuve has made a quantum leap in his filmmaking, showing a depth and level of craft that is striking. 

While Sicario is a drama and not an action film, it's exhilarating action sequences are exquisitely directed and shot.  Master cinematographer Roger Deakins work, is, as always, glorious, and well worth the price of admission alone. From the opening house raid sequence to the later raid of a drug tunnel, Deakins cinematography is sublime. His ability to propel and add depth to the narrative all while creating a masterpiece with every frame, is unparalleled.

What I liked the most about Sicario is that it shows us the reality that the "War on Drugs" has morphed into the "Drug War". This war has nothing to do with the saving of America's soul from the scourge of drug use, instead it has to do with America selling it's soul in order to wage continual war. Like the War on Terror, the Drug War is a war with no end game. Perpetual war is good for business, if your business is the military industrial complex. And if you add the prison/law enforcement industrial complex in with the military industrial complex, you have a lot of people making a lot of money making sure the drug war continues to be waged and is never won…or never declared lost.

A brief glance at the history of America's intelligence services shows us that they have consistently used illicit drugs in order to raise money and weapons for various covert operations. Be it the CIA's opium growing and smuggling business during the Vietnam War, or their cocaine trafficking into U.S. cities from Central America in the 1980's in order to support and supply the Contras and other groups in Central America, or their operations to return opium production to Afghanistan after the 2001 invasion. The key to these CIA drug operations succeeding is that drugs must be kept illegal, so that intelligence services can prosper from their sale and keep the profits off the books and away from prying eyes of oversight committees and journalists. If legalization of all illicit drugs were to happen, the CIA would find itself in quite a bind in terms of paying for all of it's nefarious activities. (I strongly encourage you to read the book, "Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press" by Alexander Cockburn, for more on this topic)

The U.S. likes to think of itself as the good guys, always with noble intentions. That is the narrative that is sold to us and that we willingly buy and struggle to question. Yet the Drug War is glaring proof that things are not always what we want them to be, or what they seem.

In the 1980's, the CIA was running cocaine from South and Central America into the inner cities of the U.S., which, oddly enough, was when the crack cocaine epidemic started. As Nancy Reagan was telling us to "Just Say No!", her husband Ronald's administration was enabling drug trafficking into the U.S. in order to illegally raise money and arms for the Contras in Nicaragua in their fight against the Sandinistas. Remember the Iran-Contra scandal…well this is the dark shadow of that scandal that no "serious" person wants to talk about. Journalist Gary Webb wrote about it, and that didn't end well for him at all. He was publicly and professionally crucified by the "establishment media" and ended up with two bullet holes in his head for his trouble. In perfect Hegelian dialectic problem-reaction-solution fashion, the CIA was funneling drugs into the heart of the U.S. in order to destroy those inner cities with drugs, weapons and violence, all the while empowering domestic law enforcement with expanded powers and dismantling the Bill of Rights in order to keep the frightened populace "safe" and their political power intact. Then they sent that money to the Contras and right wing groups in El Salvador and Honduras, where they paid for death squads, torture and assassinations, all in the name of fighting "communism" so as to re-open Central America to American business interests. (I highly recommend Gary Webb's book "Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras and the Crack Cocaine Explosion", along with Nick Shou's book "Kill the Messenger" which tells the tale of what happened to Gary Webb for writing about the CIA-Contra-Cocaine connection.)

Afghanistan is another perfect example of the U.S. being at cross purposes with itself in the War on Drugs. Most everyone thinks that the Taliban are a horrendous group of people, and that our war on them was righteous. But the closer you look at it, the less clear that becomes. For instance, the reason we invaded was because Bin Laden had been hiding in Afghanistan allegedly under Taliban protection. Before the invasion the Taliban asked the U.S. to show evidence of Bin Laden's guilt in regards to 9-11 and they would turn him over. For some reason, the U.S. refused, and invaded anyway. No one cared much because the Taliban were such loathsome people due to their horrific treatment of woman. 

A closer look at the situation in Afghanistan reveals some surprising things that complicate the narrative we as a country tell ourselves. For instance, during the reign of the Taliban, the opium business which had, with the help of the CIA during the Afghan-Soviet war, once been thriving in the Afghanistan, was shut down entirely. Under the Taliban, Afghanistan was a no-go zone for opium growing. But then something strange happened after the U.S. invasion and occupation, the opium business not only came back, it grew to previously unseen heights. Opium production in Afghanistan is now at all time highs (pardon the pun). That is certainly a strange turn of events considering the country that invaded, the U.S., is the main force behind the War on Drugs across the globe. 

The war against Afghanistan, once thought so morally clear and simple, becomes even more complicated when you take into account the practice of "bacha bazi", which literally means, "boy play", in which powerful Afghan men keep pre-pubescent boys as sex slaves. The Taliban outlawed bacha bazi, and executed anyone who practiced it. Since the U.S. invaded, bacha bazi has come roaring back, and U.S. service members have been told by their commanders to not intervene if they come across the practice. There are even stories of young boys being raped on U.S. bases by Afghan warlords, and U.S. soldiers hearing it happen but not being allowed to stop it, and being court martialed if they do intervene. When one hears these sorts of things, the question becomes, what the hell are we doing over there? What sort of twisted moral compass are we working with in that war? (Please read this disturbing NY Times piece on Bacha bazi and the U.S. ignoring it.)

Which brings us back to another war with a twisted moral compass, the Drug War. The Drug War, by every measure, has been an absolute and utter failure. Billions, if not trillions, of dollars have been wasted, and millions of lives lost, in a war that serves no purpose but to assure it's own continuance. Heroin, once the scourge of the inner city, is now epidemic in the once thought safe suburbs of America (please read Sam Quinones book "Dreamland" for more on this topic). America isn't losing it's soul in the Drug War, it has already lost it. We imprison the poor and addicted and enrich and empower the tyrannical impulse at the heart of every police officer, district attorney and politician. We as a populace don't just allow, but demand the dismantling of the rights and liberties this country was founded on. We demand a militarized police force and their "no knock" raids in the middle of the night, illegal searches and seizures, asset forfeiture and mandatory minimums, all in the name of the "War on Drugs" and our own self proclaimed moral purity. This is no "War on Drugs", drugs aren't at war with us, we are at war with ourselves. Until we can be honest about what the Drug War really is, and the powerful people really behind it, playing both sides of it and prospering from it, people will continue to be senselessly killed and die in it's name. And America will continue to sell it's soul and spiral down deeper and deeper into more circles of hell, one more heinous than the next.

When Sicario began my first thoughts were that Emily Blunt may have been miscast as the FBI SWAT team agent. Blunt is an exceedingly beautiful, almost waif-ish actress, especially compared to the monstrous Delta Force brutes she is working alongside. It even looks as if her weapon may be too heavy for her to carry in the opening sequence of the movie. As the film went on though, I came to the realization that Emily Blunt was a superb choice to play Macer. Not only is she a terrific actress, and her work in Sicario is as good as she has ever been, but she is a wonderful representation of the vital yet fragile legal structures that once made America the land of the free. In other words, Emily Blunt's Macer is a representation of the United States Constitution, or to put it in more flowery terms, Macer is Lady Liberty. What Macer is put through in Sicario is the test our rule of law and liberties have gone through in the drug war. And as del Toro's Gillick says to Macer at the end of the film, "now is a time for wolves", and Macer/Lady Liberty is just not big or strong enough to run with the big, bad, lawless wolves, otherwise known as the dogs of war. Gillick finishes by telling her she should "move to a small town somewhere, where the rule of law still exists", but as that quaint suburban Arizona house that ends up being a house of horrors proves, there is no escaping the dogs of war once they are unleashed, even in small town America.

In the first part of Sicario, there is a hauntingly effective sequence where the camera lingers in a close up on the face of a dead person in a see-through plastic bag. We can't make out whether the person is a man or woman, or how they were killed, only that they are dead and are now an anonymous statistic in the Drug War. A few moments later in the film, Macer washes the blood and mire from the Arizona house raid off in her shower, then stands post-shower in front of a steamed up mirror where her face is obscured by the condensation. It is ominously reminiscent of the anonymous Drug War victim we saw only a few shots before and foreshadows what is to come for Macer, Lady Liberty, and the rest of us, at the end of her, and our, Drug War journey.

Do yourself a favor and go see Sicario in the theatre, it is well worth your time and hard-earned money. It is not only a truly terrific film, but it will also give you a much needed glimpse into the reality just below the surface of the Drug War that our nation continues to wage. You may not like what you see in Sicario, being honest with ourselves is seldom easy. But just remember, honesty is the first step on the long journey toward sobriety, and out of our heart of darkness.

©2015

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